The Basics of Annulment in Minnesota

Wondering if you can get an annulment? Learn about the grounds for an annulment and how to get one in Minnesota.

Overview of Annulment

Annulment is a frequently misunderstood legal concept, because popular culture and religion have presented differing and often inaccurate views  of  what an annulment is in terms of family law. This article focuses on "civil annulments" not "religious annulments," which can only be granted by a church or clergy member and have no legal effect on marital status as far as the state is concerned.

Annulments and divorces are similar in the sense that they make a determination about marital status. But the vital difference between them is that divorce ends an existing, valid marriage, whereas  annulment  simply declares that what everyone thought was a marriage was never actually a marriage at all. In the eyes of the law, an annulled marriage never really existed.

Grounds for an Annulment in Minnesota

There are a number of "grounds", or reasons, why you can ask a Minnesota court to annul your marriage and declare it "null and void":

  • The marriage is prohibited by law and is "void" (never had even the potential for validity). "Incestuous marriages" (between spouses who are closely related by blood or adoption) and "bigamous marriages" (where one spouse is still legally married to a third, living person) are illegal in Minnesota. Effective July 1, 2013, same-sex marriages are not prohibited by law.
  • One spouse lacked the capacity (ability) to consent to marry at the time the marriage was solemnized (performed) because of mental issues or because of the influence of alcohol or other intoxicating drugs. But if the person mentally recovers and still chooses to live with the other spouse, then mental  incapacitation can't be used as the basis for a Minnesota annulment.
  • One spouse lacked the capacity (ability) to consent to marry because the consent was obtained by force or fraud. It's critical to note that this is  not  a ground for annulment if the spouses choose to live together afterward.
  • One spouse lacks the physical ability to consummate the marriage sexually, and hid that fact from the other spouse.
  • One spouse was underage and didn't have the consent of a parent or guardian to marry. This can't be cited as the basis for an annulment if the spouses chose to live together after the younger spouse reaches the age of majority (the legal age to marry).

How Do I Get an Annulment?

First, it's very important to know that there are statutes of limitations (legal deadlines) that apply to annulment cases. You need to be aware of them because if you file your case too late, the judge will have no choice but to dismiss it. If you miss the deadlines, the marriage can no longer be annulled and you'll have to get a divorce. The deadlines are:

  • In cases of lack of consent due to mental incapacity, intoxication, force, or fraud, no later than 90 days after the petitioner (the person asking the court for an annulment) learned about the problem. In cases of mental incapacity, either the spouse or their legal representative can file for annulment.
  • In cases of physical inability to consummate, either spouse may file no later than one year after learning about the problem.
  • In cases where one spouse was underage at the time of the marriage, the underage spouse's parent or guardian must file for annulment before the underage person reaches the legal age of consent.

Minnesota's district (trial) courts, family division, have exclusive jurisdiction (authority) to hear annulment cases, so that is where they’re filed. There are no official court forms you can use to prepare for an annulment, but in general, the procedural rules that apply to divorce cases also apply to annulment cases. Your local law library or court clerk might be able to offer some guidance.

In general, the petitioner (the spouse who wants an annulment) should serve and file a petition for annulment and file it in the Minnesota district court in the judicial district where either the petitioner or respondent (the other spouse) live. The petitioner's complaint should, at a minimum, explain the law and facts that support the request for an annulment and identify the couple's children, assets, and debts. That’s not all the information that should be included, but it’s a listing of some of the essentials.

After the petitioner files and serves the petition for annulment, the respondent can file an answer. The answer may admit or deny any or all allegations in the complaint.

If you're thinking about asking for an annulment, it's a good idea to talk to a lawyer first. In addition to the custodial and child support issues you'll face if you have kids, there could be very serious financial ramifications for you. You will also want to discuss any possible statutes of limitations with an attorney to make sure you don’t miss any deadlines.

If you are the petitioner and you win your case and get an annulment, you will be restored to the status of a single person and you can marry again.

Effect of an Annulment

Some people worry that if their marriage is declared void, the paternity of their children will be called into question. They also worry about what will happen to their shared property and debts. These are not generally issues in Minnesota.

Minnesota law explicitly provides that when an action for annulment is filed, standard divorce laws are applied relating to the property rights of the spouses, maintenance (also known as alimony), and the support and custody of children. Minnesota law also says that "the parent and child relationship may exist regardless of the marital status of the parents." Finally, Minnesota's "presumptions of paternity" (strong legal assumptions that a man is the biological father of a child) cover situations where a father and mother attempt to marry but the marriage is later declared invalid.

Therefore, when the petition for annulment is filed, the judge will also make decisions about child support, custody, and parenting time (visitation)—just as it would in a divorce case.

Most state courts don’t have statutory authority to award alimony or divide property or debts as part of an annulment case. The logic behind this is that there cannot be a marital estate if there wasn't a valid marriage. But Minnesota is different and has more generous statutes. Minnesota’s laws specifically require the district court to equitably (fairly) divide a couple’s property and debts when it decides an annulment case, just like a divorce. The Minnesota alimony laws also apply.

Resources

The Minnesota Judicial Branch has a  helpful website  explaining some of the differences between an annulment and a legal separation. There is also a  link  to clinics and self-help sessions held throughout the state.

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